Have you seen those miniature tents on display at sporting good stores? They're just like regular tents--but really, really small. Haven't you just wanted to bring one home with you?
Me neither. I didn't even know they'd even existed until I got a pitch a few weeks ago.
"Available in two sizes, small and large, Tiny Tents are great for indoor and outdoor camping excursions, desk displays, or model enthusiasts," the release read. "Little ones will love to use them to play with their dolls and action figures while pets can snuggle up inside the larger version for a nap."
I called Chris Clearman, a former senior product designer at GoPro in San Francisco, and the progenitor of this "tiny tent" idea. Turns out, it wasn't a spoof, or a joke. Clearman was dead serious; he wanted a small tent all his life, he says. And so he went to painstaking lengths to make sure the tiny tents he designed-- and was planning to manufacture-- were perfect replicas of the real thing, only 12- or 19-in. tall, rather than, well, human size tents, which are about 60 in. tall at the peak.
Some of the tents' features, according to a website dedicated to showcasing their specs: "Real fiber glass poles, a removable rainfly, flame retardant nylon, working zippers, doors, windows, screens, and a tarp floor. Tiny Tent even pitch like a real tent and come packed in a Tiny Tent Bag!"
Wednesday at midnight, a Kickstarter campaign for Tiny Tents (an $18 pledge got supporters the promise of a 12-in. tent; $21 got the promise of a 19-in tent) ran out of time. It did not meet its goal. And, alas, Clearman is left without a clear future for his little project. "It's a big question mark right now, whether to manufacture them," Clearman said when reached on the phone hours before the deadline, when Tiny Tents was funded to just more than $7,000 of its $15,000 goal. "It didn't take off the way we would have liked."
This is, of course, not a rare fate for projects hosted on Kickstarter; according to the company, only about 36% of projects uploaded to the Kickstarter platform reach their funding goal by their deadline.
"For me, the lesson is the more things you try, the more will take off," Clearman told me.
Clearman had tried things before. He'd tried a lot of things, actually, and has made something of a specialty out of creating compact versions of objects. One: a couple-dose asthma inhaler that fit in a pocket. (Dud.)
Another: a small blanket that packed up into a tiny pocket, which is great for, say, providing a surface for sitting if you'd been hiking. This did take off, even though he made it on a whim, while he was still working at GoPro. The Pocket Blanket, after being featured on Gizmodo and a few other blogs, sold extremely well. So well that all the extra space in his entire Palo Alto apartment--under his bed, on his patio--was taken up by fulfilling orders of the Pocket Blanket.
"The first week we were selling hundreds and hundreds of them a day," he says. "I would come home from GoPro and just ship hundreds of these things myself."
He made more things. And those additional products (a backpack that smushes down smaller than a can of Coke; an even smaller travel blanket) helped him launch a company, which he did with $11,000. Now, Matador is based in Boulder, Colorado, employs three people, and has annual revenue in the single-digit millions.
When Clearman had the idea for manufacturing, and selling to the masses, a very, very small camping tent, he already had the supply-chain in place to make that happen: "When meeting with one of our manufacturers-- they already manufactured tents--we just floated the idea: What do you think about making tiny ones of these?" The company agreed.
But first, Clearman wanted to ensure that, well, someone would actually, um, buy these tents, even though they're basically useless unless you're a cat or small dog.
He figured, though, that the risk was low, and funded a website, a Facebook page, and the Kickstarter--and a little bit of press outreach. It was his first time trying Kickstarter--and trying to fund the manufacturing of a new item in advance. In the past, he estimates Matador has spent between $30,000 and $60,000 on creating a product inventory before its launch; this time around he spent between $5,000 and $10,000 on publicity and prototypes only.
Will Clearman be deterred by the failure of the Tiny Tent to gain traction on Kickstarter? Of course not. He estimates that Matador will debut about six to eight new products this year.
It remains undetermined whether these products will be standard-sized or tiny.